Vedad Ibisevic stole the show on Matchday 16, moving top of the Bundesliga scorers' chart with a well-taken hat-trick as VfB Stuttgart eased past stuttering FC Schalke 04, while 1. FC Nuremberg and SC Freiburg picked up narrow home wins over Fortuna Düsseldorf and SpVgg Greuther Fürth respectively.
VfB Stuttgart 3-1 FC Schalke 04
Only 42 hours had passed between Stuttgart's UEFA Europa League defeat to Molde and kick-off at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, but you would never have guessed it. Ibrahima Traore led a three-on-two counter, expertly rounded off from close range by Ibisevic for the Bosnian international's eighth goal of the campaign, just two minutes into the contest.
Both sides appeared to decided that attack would be the best form of defence and, with the game wide open, Ciprian Marica got a boot to Jermaine Jones' left-wing cross to level against his old club. Stuttgart were rocking and had goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to thank for keeping out Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's near-post flick in the 25th minute.
Schalke's Christian Fuchs was enjoying himself down the left-hand side, but was sporting an altogether different expression moments later when referee Felix Zwayer adjudged the Austrian to have fouled Christian Gentner inside the box. Full of confidence, Ibisevic duly delivered from the spot, tucking the ball out of ex-Stuttgart stopper Timo Hildebrand's reach for 2-1.
He was celebrating again shortly after the hour-mark, completing his hat-trick after Hildebrand could only parry Raphael Holzhauser's fierce drive back into the danger zone. Not even a straight red card to Stuttgart's Gotoku Sakai could force a response from Huub Stevens' strugglers, who themselves had Jones sent off with 15 minutes left on the clock.
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SC Freiburg 1-0 SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Patience was the name of the game during the opening exchanges as Freiburg and Fürth held each other at arm's length in an encounter struggling to strike up a rhythm. Robert Zillner fired wide with what turned out to be the visitors' only chance of the half but, while they were doing well to disrupt Freiburg's attacking ambitions, the hosts soon took the lead when Daniel Caligiuri turned his man on the edge of the box before drilling an effort into the bottom corner.
Fürth flouder in Freiburg
The goal put the wind in Freiburg's sails as they began turning the lion's share of possession into clever combinations against their deep-lying opponents, who were now struggling to get to grips with proceedings. Jan Rosenthal squandered two chances, but at the other end the hosts' lead came under little threat before the end of the first half. Not much changed after the restart though as Fürth continued to toil by over-complicating their forward movements and failing to test Oliver Baumann.
Edgar Prib was the only bright spark for the visitors, yet even the midfielder's best efforts couldn't help Fürth find the target despite Freiburg inviting the Clover Leaves onto the front foot. The hosts were demonstrating little attacking threat in the second period and seemed more intent on preserving their lead. That approach almost cost them though, when a defensive mix-up left Christopher Nöthe in front of an open-goal only for Pavel Krmas' sensational interception to deflect the ball onto the post and away from danger. It was the last chance of the game.
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1. FC Nuremberg 2-0 Fortuna Düsseldorf
In freezing temperatures in northern Bavaria, it took both sides time to warm to the task as Düsseldorf did their best to throw Nuremberg out of sync by pressing high up the pitch, with mixed results. Axel Bellinghausen blazed over from eight yards for Fortuna, but having squandered a handful of early chances der Club broke the deadlock, as Markus Feulner beat his man to fire across goal where Sebastian Polter was on hand to poke home at the near post.
Fortuna's fight reaps no rewards
The hosts' disciplined backline denied Düsseldorf a regular sight of goal, while their forward department went about unlocking the visitors to great effect. Nuremberg's wing-play proved especially effective, but though Hanno Balitsch and Javier Pinola both turned headers goalwards, neither could find a way past Fabian Giefer before the break. The sides were battling over every blade of grass, but clear-cut chances remained at a premium in the hard-fought encounter.
Düsseldorf began taking more risks going forward to help open up the game and their courage nearly paid off. Dani Schahin forced Timothy Chandler to clear his best effort off the line, while Andreas Lambertz bundled the ball the wrong side of the post to further frustrate the travelling fans. Last-ditch defending and wasteful efforts from range littered the contest in its closing stages, but after Feulner found the top corner despite Giefer's best efforts, Nuremberg were able to comfortably see out the win.
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